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    “Louisville is going to be in the very select, unique group of orchestras to present Leonard Bernstein’s largest scale orchestral concert, Mass. It is a piece that is not performed regularly because it is that immense, adventurous, and ambitious,” Teddy Abrams, Music Director of the Louisville Orchestra says about the show that will set the tone for the 2015-2016 season. There are two performances at Whitney Hall this week - Saturday, September 26 at 8 p.m and again on Sunday at 3 p.m.

    Legendary American Conductor Leonard Bernstein wrote the Mass, commissioned by Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis, to honor the memory of John F. Kennedy. Bernstein was inspired by the Roman Catholic Liturgy, which he found to be moving and mysterious. The subtitle of the work is "A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers," hinting at its unique character and monumental size. There will be so many people on stage that part of the orchestra will be in the pit.

    The central role of the Mass is the Celebrant, and kudos to the Orchestra for getting star baritone Jubilant Sykes to take it on. When he performed it to great acclaim with the Baltimore Symphony in 2009, the recording was nominated for a Grammy Award. Sykes is a classically trained vocalist and an actor on stage and film. He took some time out of a busy rehearsal schedule to answer a few questions.

    What are the most challenging aspects of the Mass?

    There are two challenging things about "Mass". (A) Keeping the story line for the character because often his thoughts and actions are not written out as in typical story telling. (B) Also the changing of vocal styles in such a short amount of time. It can literally change from measure to measure. There are no rules in keeping a pure vocal line. The satisfaction is trying to stay true to the feelings of the score. 

    What was the turning point of your decision to pursue a career in music? Did you have role models for that growing up?

    I think I'm just now realizing that I've done this for a living. It still amazes me. I had  great teachers and conductors who encouraged me when I was younger. Now it's more like a calling.

    How did you transition into acting roles in plays and film?

    I've always wanted to act but singing was the door that opened for me. So when I was seen as an actor by a producer I went for it. Throwing myself in it - not looking back. It's fascinating and very difficult. It's like living life honestly with no pretense. So much harder than it looks. One part led to another. It's a glorious art form.

    What are your favorite roles in the classical repertoire? Are there any that you haven't had the chance to perform that you would like to tackle?

    Some of my favorite roles are Mecurio in the opera La Calisto by Cavalli, Figaro and the Count in Le Nozze di Figaro (Mozart), Escamillo in Carmen by Bizet. At one time I wanted to do Wozzeck by Berg but I can dream!

    What do you find yourself listening to right now? Who are some of your favorite contemporary singers -- in any genre?

    I enjoy Sarah Vaughan, Johnny Hartman, anything by Bach, and old school jazz. 

    What advice do you give to young people who want to pursue a musical career?

    For young folks be willing to work hard not for success, but for excellence!

    Plenty of local young people will get a chance to be inspired by Sykes since the Mass requires a large cast of supporting vocalists and musicians. To pull off this work, Abrams has called on the Male High School Marching Band, the University of Louisville Collegiate Chorale, Louisville Chamber Choir, and Highland Hills Middle School Boys Choir. Other featured vocalists include Morgan James, Emily Albrink, Tyler Dippold, Chad Sloan, Carly Johnson, and Amy Cuneca.

    Tickets are still available. Call the Kentucky Center box office at 502-584-7777 or go online for more details.

    Listen to Jubilant Sykes sing "A Simple Song" from Bernstein's Mass:

    [Photo Credits: Jubilant Sykes by Dave Hoffman, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; poster courtesy of Louisville Orchestra]

    Selena Frye's picture

    About Selena Frye

    I'm a writer and editor living in Louisville since 1996. I'm originally from the Blue Ridge of Virginia.

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